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Don King’s ransom

Don King
Don King’s efforts to persuade Lennox Lewis to leave Frank Maloney in 1993 were borderline hilarious, writes Steve Bunce

THE leaflets were delivered late at night, slipped under doors in the grandest halls of the finest hotels in Las Vegas, left on the marble reception desks for personal delivery to people in the private suites and surreptitiously handed to any loitering writers or red-eyed broadcasters. It was an open letter to Lennox Lewis on the morning of his world title fight with Tony Tucker in 1993. It was written by a collection of Don King’s skilled men, typed out late at night for the midnight distribution to the fight fraternity in the city. It was part desperate love letter from King to Lewis and part open assault from King on Frank Maloney. It still makes me chuckle all these years later.

King had tried all the usual tricks to get Lewis, he had bid a lot of money to stage the title fight, he had outbid his rivals, he had played the bar-b-q card, wrapping the fighter’s mother in a bubble of praise as he handed her a heavily flavoured wing, and he had tried to appeal to Lennox Lewis on so many levels and over so many months. Lewis was uniquely resistant to King, he seemed to have the ability to block out any of King’s ‘politricks’, as he called boxing’s methods.

And so, with time running out for the defection of Lewis, and with Tucker’s chances diminishing with each hour, King had created the document to be given to the press and all of the boxer’s “family and genuine friends.” The fight was going to hurt King in the pocket, the leaflet was part of a hearts and minds battle. “It’s past time to separate fact from fiction. It’s high time to clear the air of the poison and invective.”

The leaflet is four pages long, the front page is a light green, printed with a picture of young Lewis holding up the WBC belt. King starts by asking if Maloney is “vicious, stupid or both?” King can save Lewis from obscurity – that is the theme – but first everybody needs to understand that Don King is the good guy in this game and Maloney is the bad guy. Man, Las Vegas was a pantomime back then.

“I’m paying Lennox Lewis a $9 million purse and I’m being subjected to vilification, character assassination, slander and innuendo.” That is what King is doing for “a fighter who could walk naked through Times Square and remain invisible.” And why is Lewis invisible? The answer to that is simple, it is down to just one person: “You are being held back by this mental midget, this pugilistic pygmy, named Frank Maloney.” That, my friend, is what you want to read when you naturally wake at 5am on a Las Vegas fight morning – it was the dawn of the mental midget and the sun over the mountains had never looked better.

“I feel honoured that King went to such trouble to try and get rid of me,” said Maloney, who is now Kellie, last weekend. “It was non-stop from the day we lost the purse bid. King made me more famous than the fighters. As soon as he called me a mental midget pugilistic pygmy, the American press and radio wanted so many interviews.” And Maloney, by the way, gave every single one of those interviews.

King sets out a series of charges, things he has been accused of, and then he breaks down the accusations, praises Lewis, attacks Maloney and creates gold. King was not interested in “stealing” Lewis. “How could I steal Lennox? Can’t Lennox think for himself? Lennox Lewis can’t come to me as long as he is involved with the moronic Maloney.”

King was doing everything possible to raise the profile of the British fighter, but Maloney was holding him back. “I wanted Lennox to visit schools, hospitals and get much-needed exposure to American boxing writers and broadcasters.” The reason the fight was not more popular? Simple: “The paranoia, delusions and schizophrenia of Maloney.” Did somebody mention character assassination?

There was a story all week in Las Vegas about the numbers in the travelling Lewis party. This is classic King, the master at his art. “By the terms of the contract signed by Maloney and Lennox, all the Lewis camp is entitled to are five airline tickets, five rooms and meals for five people.” Those are the King facts, but what did Lennox and Maloney do? Yep, you guessed it: “They then extorted an extra $300,000 for extra airline tickets, rooms and meals. But now the five people have become 54 people, who are eating, sleeping, dining and drinking on Don King’s tab while spewing poison and venom about their benefactor. I ask those people, where is your pride? Where is your dignity?” This was great stuff with the first coffee of the day – extortion, pride and dignity.

King had so much love for Lennox Lewis, he needed that point made. “I love Lennox Lewis. I love his beautiful mother, Violet, a lady of beauty and dignity who carries herself with the air of a queen. And I love Lennox’s brother, Dennis, a voice of reason on an island of insanity.” That last line could have only come from the mind of Mike Marley, part of King’s media team at the fight.

As it came to an end, King got personal: “Here’s a beautiful black man being taught to hate and to turn against another black man. When I look at Lennox Lewis, I see myself.” That is serious breakfast reading and he finished with a lovely flourish: “When I look at his mother, I see my mother.”

And then it was the final words of persuasion, sense or comedy: “Are you listening Lennox? Or are you sleeping? I pray to God that you’re not going to sleep through the revolution.” Signed: “Don King.”

Lewis beat Tucker and King never got Lennox or led that revolution. The leaflet remains one of boxing’s most sacred and rare documents.

The day after the fight, the pamphleteer and the mental midget met at the airport. Maloney thanked him for the publicity. “He just roared with that laugh of his and told me the English are all crazy. He did promise that he would get Lennox one day. Those were great days, they will never be repeated.” Maloney might just be right, that was certainly a great week.

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